The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone. The Oscar race has started and films from the festival are opening theatrically this week (Prisoners, Enough Said).  From the press circuit, you might think that only films starring Oscar nominees or made by Vegas magicians were in the festival, but those films represent only a small sampling of the diverse array of cinema from the festival.

Over the course of my 9 days, I saw 47 films from 19 different countries on 6 continents. While some of these films such as Metalhead have yet to secure a US distributor, they have been able to close a number of other territories and directors and talent have signed with major agencies.

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If your film is star driven and could warrant a wide release, the fest can serve as a great launch pad. The fact remains though that the fest will never be in competition with Sundance where more challenging fare is able to be discovered.  In fact, fewer than five films from the discovery, contemporary world cinema, and wavelength sections were acquired for US distribution over the course of the festival.  Proportionately the festival also offers very little room for documentaries. Of the 288 features in the festival, fewer than 15% are documentaries.

To be fair, several films were able to close deals for multiple territories, but were not able to get a US distributor as of the time of this writing, and of course many films will secure distribution in the coming month. I did not get the sense of urgency at this year’s festival though there were a few all night negotiations and about a dozen films that sold for seven figures. That sounds like a lot until you realize Sundance had more films passing that benchmark despite having about ½ as many films available.

If I was a filmmaker I would personally be very wary of premiering my film at TIFF without stars.

The big players at the festival were The Weinstein Company and Roadside Attractions. TWC made the flashier deals nabbing Tracks out of Venice/Telluride for an undisclosed sumThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her for just over $3,000,000, The Railway Man for $2,000,000 and the behemoth deal for Can a Song save Your Life. That film sold for $7,000,000 with a $20,000,000 P&A commitment. On paper this may seem absurd, but the movie is a musical with original songs and, considering the director’s prior feature won an Oscar for best original song, there is certainly an added revenue stream for the film. If you see the film though, it is also clear that TWC has to be careful in how they price the music, charging more than a specific dollar amount goes directly against the message of the film.

All four of these films will not be released until 2014. TWC already had Philomena, August Osage County, One Chance, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in the festival, plus their Radius label had The Art of the Steal, Man of Tai Chi, Blue Ruin, and The Unknown Known. Unlike last year, Radius did not strike for any films at the festival.

Roadside Attractions came to the festival with Blood Ties and Gloria (Both North American premieres) and left with Life of Crime for $2,000,000, Joe for north of $2,000,000, Words and Pictures, and Therese. The first two are in partnership with Lionsgate. The total of four films is one shy of the five films they nabbed last year, but still makes them one of the two most active distributors at the festival.

A24 was another company that made a big splash acquiring for over $1,000,000 each EnemyUnder the Skin, and Locke.  Locke screened in Venice and a TIFF market screening, but was not in the festival. The company that has had continued success connecting to the millennial generation seems to be guiding themselves toward genre fare.

Magnolia acquired The Right Kind of Wrong ahead of its world premiere and also acquired The Sacrament.  Their films Pioneer and How I Live Now were in the festival.

Open Road is tackling The Green Inferno for wide release, but with no MG. They are partnering with XLRator on All is By My Side. Relativity Media meanwhile decided to partner with Blumhouse Productions to acquire Oculus from the Midnight Madness section and is planning a wide release. The film was originally attached to Film District, but they parted ways just prior to the start of the festival

Focus Features acquired Jason Bateman helmed Bad Words for north of $7,000,000 and premiered Dallas Buyers Club.

Millennium and CBS also made big buys. The former acquired Fading Gigolo for $2,000,000+ and the latter paid $2.5 Mill for The F Word

On the TV side, Showtime snagged Made in America and HBO went for Dangerous Acts before they world premiered at the festival.

IFC just acquired Hateship Loveship and IFC Midnight (The genre arm of IFC) went for Proxy and The StationTheir sister division Sundance Selects added Bastards and Finding Vivian Maier prior to the festival.  IFC/Sundance Selects had another 5 films that screened at the fest including the world premiere of The Face of Love.

Well Go USA was able to get Rigor Mortis pre-fest and McCanick during the fest. McCanick is one of the final films starring the late Cory Monteith. Drafthouse Films continued their pursuit of genre films with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?.

A small number of foreign language films were able to secure distribution in the States. Cohen Media Group grabbed the documentary The Last of the Unjust, Artsploitation said, yes sir to The Major, Film Movement went for Le Demantlement, Viva Pictures decided to play with Antboy, and Tribeca scored Bright Days Ahead

Other deals include EOne acquiring Watermark, FilmBuff scoring the one digital deal of the festval with TFC Alum, Jody Shapiro’s doc Burt’s Buzz. Everyday Pictures will handle the theatrical. And of course Disney continued their relationship with the now retired Anime icon for The Wind Rises

Companies that were noticeably absent in the acquisitions department at the festival include Fox Searchlight, Oscilloscope, and Anchor Bay.

40 films secured US distribution between the festival slate being announced and the time of this writing. This is great, but pales in comparison to Sundance numbers, and is noticeably ahead of Tribeca’s. The Midnight Madness and Gala sections are the only ones in which over ½ the films have US distributors attached. The Special Presentation and TIFF DOCS sections are also well represented.

Now I want to address the issue of manners and etiquette. While talking on your phone or doing screen grabs during a screening is rude, it does not warrant calling the cops.

There were some very troubling scenes to me at this year’s festival. At no point is it acceptable to yell and curse at volunteers. They are merely doing what they are told and are graciously helping all of us partake in our fabulous festival excursion. If you have to say, “Do You Know Who I Am?” not only do we not know who you are, but you aren’t important enough that it matters. Also, though most of us were taught how to line up and wait patiently in kindergarten, it is common courtesy to do this when people have waited an hour in line for a screening. Do not shove your way through the corn maze line to go near the front.

And if someone from your company is lucky enough to attend the fest freelance, do not turn them into your workslave. If you wanted to send them to the festival, you could have paid for them to be there.

Remember, we have the best jobs in the world and a little decency goes a long way.

Film Distributor Amount Paid Territories
Locke A24 $1.25 Mil US
Enemy A24 low seven figures US
Under the Skin A24 $1 Mll + US
The Major Artsploitation US
The F Word CBS Films $2.5 Mil US
The Last of the Unjust Cohen Media Group North America
The Wind Rises Disney North America
Why Don’t You Play in Hell Drafthouse Films US
Watermark Eone US, Canada
Le Demantlement Film Movement US/World Airlines
Burt’s Buzz FilmBuff/Everyday Pictures US
Bad Words Focus Features $7 Million Worldwide
Dangerous Acts HBO US TV
Hateship Loveship IFC US
Proxy IFC Midnight North America
The Station IFC Midnight US
The Right Kind of Wrong Magnolia US
The Sacrement Magnolia Pictures US
Fading Gigolo Millennium Entertainment Btwn-$2-3 Mil US
The Green Inferno Open Road Films No MG North America
All Is By My Side Open Road Films/XLRator US
Oculus Relativity/Blumhouse Productions US
Words and Pictures Roadside Attractions US
Therese Roadside Attractions US
Joe Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate $2 Mil + US
Life of Crime Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate $2 Mil US
Made in America Showtime US TV
Tim’s Vermeer SPC Worldwide
The Armstrong Lie SPC Worldwide
Finding Vivian Maeir Sundance Selects North America
Bastards Sundance Selects US
Eleanor Rigby Him and Her The Weinstein Company About $3 Mil US/UK/FR/CA
The Railway Man The Weinstein Company $2 Mil US
Can a Song Save Your Life The Weinstein Company $7 Million US
Tracks The Weinstein Company US
Bright Days Ahead Tribeca Films US
Antboy Viva Pictures US
McCanick Well Go USA US
Rigor Mortis Well Go USA US

September 19th, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals

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TIFF IS HERE! Let the craziness (And the Jewish new year) begin! I figured I would split this into the good and bad from how films performed at last year’s fests.  If you’re playing in the Contemporary World Cinema or Discovery section you might want to run to Vimeo ASAP, but more on that later. Let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?

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Five positives to highlight from last year

  1. Midnight Madness Acquisitions
    • Every film in the Midnight Madness section was acquired for domestic distribution and many (Lords of Salem, Aftershock) were for seven figure deals. The simple fact is that the horror audience is incredibly loyal. It is arguably the most loyal and consistent substantial audience that exists. It’s also often critic-proof, which is not the case for a downbeat drama.
  2. Black and White Film
    • Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing were both arguably risky ventures despite the notoriety of people behind and in front of the lens. Both films were shot in black and white and rely on indie celebrity status for marketing. That said, each has grossed over $4,000,000 at the domestic box office. Frances Ha is IFC’s highest grossing film this year and Much Ado About Nothing is Roadside’s best box office performer from their long list of acquisitions at last year’s festival.
  3. Best Performers
    • A number of smaller specialty distributors had their highest grossing US films to date come from 2012 festival acquisitions. Many of these films would not scream top box office though. One is arguably a massive disappointment.
      • Cinema Guild took Museum Hours which has since grossed over $300,000. The film has been nothing if not a marvel, having passed the $200,000 mark before even opening in LA. For a company known for challenging foreign fare and documentaries, this film is no exception, but has clearly connected with audiences.
      • Well Go USA took some action from abroad to the tune of just under $700k in the US via The Thieves. For a company based in Plano, TX that has to be a record.
      • Drafthouse Films did so well with the documentary Act of Killing that TIFF is giving them a panel to explain their distribution strategy. HINT…GO…Tim League is one of the most entertaining people you will hear speak in any capacity. He is also usually quite candid and unpredictable. This film looks to top out at just under $500,000…over 300% above their next highest box office performer.
      • Entertainment One’s expansion into the US box office has been a poor to mixed bag (not to worry though, they kind of dominate everywhere else). A Late Quartet stars Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but tepid reviews and no awards traction capped the film at around $1.5 Mil. Still, it’s their best performer in the States.
      • Cohen Media Group specializes in handling foreign films. They specifically seem to like ones from France. Yet their highest grosser is from Lebanon (with French backing of course). The Attack is still going strong at the box office with $1.6 Mil in revenue and likely to add another $250,000 or so before it wraps. It’s only a matter of time before they pass the $2,000,000 mark with a film.
  4. Israel
    • The Attack, The Gatekeepers, and Fill the Void all have something in common. They were at least partially shot in Israel and have all grossed over $1,000,000 in the US. In addition, Hannah Arendt has grossed over $600,000 which is particularly impressive when compared with other Zeitgeist releases of the past few years. While Eagles failed to attract buyer interest, Israel continues to be arguably the most reliable foreign language performer in the US. I would say it’s France, but their film industry is much more robust. Many of their top films will never come here and I can’t say that with Israel.  To put it another way, the US box office total combined for these four films would be equal to $1 donation from every Israeli citizen.
  5. HBO Docs
    • Sheila, Sheila, Sheila. If you don’t know her name, you clearly don’t know squat about the Docs. Mea Maxima Culpa premiered at the fest and was one of only two TV Docs to get on the Oscar shortlist (the other one, Ethel, was also an HBO Doc). HBO paid big and got the two most star studded docs of the festival, Love, Marilyn and Casting By.  For documentaries, TV continues to be the major power player and nobody ponied up more money for a Doc at the fest than HBO did when they partnered with Cinedigm for Love, Marilyn. Sale price was between $1.25 million and $1.75 million.

Five negatives to highlight from last year

  1. Midnight Madness Box Office
    • Dredd was a giant studio disappointment and major money loser after opening in the US on 2500 screens with a PSA of $3426. Reported production budget was $50mil, but pulled in a worldwide BO gross of a little over $35mil. Eli Roth’s Aftershock never took off on digital or theatrically where it opened to a PSA under $500 and failed to gross over $100k. Come Out and Play meanwhile couldn’t even pass $5k. Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem managed over $1,000,000 after buyer Anchor Bay capitalized on publicity surrounding Zombie’s new book and album, but still didn’t justify the acquisitions price (reportedly $2mil) and bidding war for the title.
  2. Films with Title Changes
    • Girl Most Likely and Stuck in Love are both star driven comedies that originated with horridly bland titling (Imogene and Writers respectively). Despite the attempts of Roadside Attractions and Millenium Entertainment to rebrand the films, both are each company’s lowest performing TIFF acquisition. Girl Most Likely saw grosses drop 72% in its second weekend and Stuck in Love will not even pass $100k. Both films saw much better results on VOD, but at the end of the day, compared to top performing acquisitions titles from these players, both can be considered disappointments.  Meanwhile TWC’s Unfinished Songs (Formerly Songs for Marion) has barely outgrossed their Norwegian epic Kon-Tiki. EEK!
  3. African and Eastern European Cinema
    • A look at the films that failed to secure distribution last year and it becomes clear that buyers were not enjoying anything from the entire continent of Africa. I mean literally, THE ENTIRE CONTINENT! There was not a Tsotsi  in the bunch.
  4. Award winning films without distribution going into the festival
    • Artifact won the audience award for best doc, the Fipresci prize went to Detroit Unleaded and both have yet to find a home in the States. Artifact will all but certainly go DIY and who knows what the future holds for Detroit Unleaded which does not have the benefit of name recognition or Jared Leto’s face.
  5. The lack of prominent DIY and Alt distribution models
    • Spring Breakers was a pact between the producers and A24. There were otherwise no prominent examples of DIY releasing, hybrid theatrical or new ideas that sprung out of the festival. Yes, Snoop Lion self-released his doc Reincarnated, but that was to disastrous results and the doc was nothing more than a vanity project.
    • Clearly, the fest knew things had to change based on Tuesday’s announcement. In case you’ve been living under a rock or stuck in Venice, Vimeo has offered a game changer to films that will world premiere at TIFF. A $10,000 MG to the films that give Vimeo a 30 day premiere VOD window. If the film makes back the $10k before the 30 days, it switches to their standard and by all accounts fantastic 90/10 split. Yes, YOU get to keep 90%! Any film that’s not a star vehicle would be a fool not to take them up on the offer, especially since they can still seek acquisition. In fact, a smart distributor will see all the free press they will get from the publicity and look for the films that say yes. Naturally, I expect most to do the opposite and argue that the lost revenue will require them to lower their offers. That should be a red flag to any filmmaker if it happens. Similarly, if a sales agent is telling you to pass, so that your film from Croatia can wait for the American dollars to pour in, you should terminate your relationship on the spot!  No word yet though on what happens for the films that did the 1-2 punch  and premiered at Locarno or Venice.

BONUS

Congratulations to TFC alums with films in the festival.

  • Amy Seimetz (Pit Stop) stars in Ti West’s latest flick The Sacrament.
  • Jody Shapiro (How to Start Your Own Country) directed Burt’s Buzz
  • James Franco (Kink and Interior. Leather Bar) wrote, directed and stars in Child of God, wrote the source material for and stars in Palo Alto, and stars in Third Person. More impressive is the fact that he has had films at Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice, and Toronto this year.

I’ll be on the ground in Toronto again this year and hope to report back about my findings and the deals made.

Below is a list of films from TIFF and how they’ve performed at the box office. I chose not to include any film that was from a studio or mini major and opened wide. I also chose not to include films that premiered at Berlin, Sundance, or SXSW and had already secured distribution.

Film Distributor Box Office Gross
Come Out and Play Cinedigm $2,638
What Richard Did Tribeca Film $2,749
Inescapable IFC $4,327
The Time Being Tribeca Film $5,274
The Brass Teapot Magnolia $6,997
Inch’Allah EOne $9,155
I Declare War Drafthouse Films $10,793
Greetings from Tim Buckley Tribeca Film $11,157
Viola Cinema Guild $15,471
The ABC’s of Death Magnet $21,832
Pieta Drafthouse Films $22,080
The Patience Stone SPC $23,296
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story First Run $27,156
The Bay Roadside Attractions $30,668
Berberian Sound Studio IFC $31,641
How To Make Money Selling Drugs Tribeca Film $39,192
Passion Entertainment One $40,100
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Tribeca Film $50,292
Venus & Serena Magnolia $51,271
Aftershock Radius-TWC $58,510
More than Honey Kino Lorber $66,728
Leviathan Cinema Guild $72,816
Something in the Air $73,306
No One Lives Anchor Bay $74,918
Stuck In Love (Formerly Writers) Millenium Entertainment $81,071
Byzantium IFC $85,252
Storm Surfers 3D Xlrator $117,090
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners Code Black $129,102
Midnight’s Children Paladin/108 Media $190,022
No Place on Earth Magnolia $200,238
Arthur Newman Cinedigm $207,853
Tai Chi 0 Variance/Well Go USA $212,094
Blancanieves Cohen Media Group $240,310
Museum Hours Cinema Guild $304,145
A Werewolf Boy CJ $342,922
Act of Killing Drafthouse Films $379,598
At Any Price SPC $380,594
In the House Cohen Media Group $389,757
A Hijacking Magnolia $401,366
The Reluctant Fundamentalist IFC $528,731
Still Mine (formerly Still) Samuel Goldwyn $586,767
To The Wonder Magnolia $587,615
Hannah Arendt Zeitgeist $636,505
The Thieves Well Go USA $685,839
Lore Music Box Films $970,325
From Up on Poppy Hill GK $1,002,895
Ginger & Rosa A24 $1,012,973
What Maise Knew Millenium Entertainment $1,065,000
The Lords of Salem Anchor Bay $1,165,882
Girl Most Likely (Formerly Imogene) Roadside Attractions $1,377,015
Disconnect LD $1,436,900
Kon-Tiki TWC $1,517,410
A Late Quartet Entertainment One $1,562,546
The Attack Cohen Media Group $1,580,787
Stories We Tell Roadside Attractions $1,584,890
Love is All You Need SPC $1,608,982
Unifnished Song (Formerly Song for Marion) TWC $1,634,532
Fill the Void SPC $1,757,195
English Vinglish Eros $1,862,086
The Iceman Millenium Entertainment $1,943,239
The Gatekeepers SPC $2,415,727
Emperor Roadside Attractions $3,346,265
Frances Ha IFC $4,043,502
Much Ado about Nothing Roadside Attractions $4,262,205
The Company You Keep SPC $5,133,027
Hyde Park on Hudson Focus $6,376,145
Anna Karenina Focus $12,816,367
Spring Breakers A24 $14,124,284
The Master TWC $16,377,274
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Summit $17,742,948
Quartet TWC $18,390,117
The Impossible Summit $18,889,600
The Place Beyond the Pines Focus $21,403,519
Silver Linings Playbook TWC $129,729,000
Clip Artsploitation BO Not Reported
Pusher Radius-TWC BO Not Reported
Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp Phase 4 BO Not Reported
Janeane from Des Moines Red Flag Releasing BO Not Reported
Reincarnated DIY BO Not Reported
State 194 Participant Media BO Not Reported
The Secret Disco Revolution Screen Media BO Not Reported
Wasteland Oscilloscope BO Not Reported
The Lesser Blessed Monterey Media BO Not Reported
Motorway Media Asia Films Digital Only
Everybody Has a Plan 20th Century Fox Digital Only
London-The Modern Babylon Brittish Film Institute Digital Only
Lunarcy! Epix Digital Only
Camp 14 – Total Control Zone Netflix Digital Streaming
Picture Day Arc Entertainment Digital/DVD only
My Awkward Sexual Adventure Tribeca Film Digital/DVD only
The Deep Focus World Digital/DVD only
Bad 25 ABC TV
9.79 ESPN TV
Casting By HBO TV
First Comes Love HBO TV
Love, Marilyn HBO TV
A Liar’s Autobiography Epix TV
Mea Maxima Culpa HBO TV
Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out Showtime/Gravitas TV/Digital
Jayne Mansfield’s Car Anchor Bay Not Yet Released
The Last Time I Saw Macao Cinema Guild Not Yet Released
Men At Lunch First Run Not Yet Released
Out in the Dark Breaking Glass Not Yet Released
Thanks For Sharing Roadside Attractions Not Yet Released
Zaytoun Strand Releasing Not Yet Released
Shepard & Dark Music Box Films Not Yet Released
Capital Cohen Media Group Not Yet Released
Mekong Hotel Strand Releasing Not Yet Released
Three Worlds Film Movement Not Yet Released
Ghost Graduation Fox Not Yet Released
The End of Time Sony Pictures Worldwide Not Yet Released
Great Expectations Outsource Media Group Not Yet Released
Twice Born Entertainment One Not Yet Released
The Deflowering of Eva Van End Film Movement Not Yet Released

September 5th, 2013

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals

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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts this week and I will be there for almost the entire festival where I anticipate seeing 45-50 films before I depart. TIFF is not a film festival; it is a giant marathon that is almost beyond comprehension. If you believe that more is better, then this is the place to be. Think of TIFF as an 11 course film meal anchored by spam on steroids!

photo by chensiyuan

photo credit chensiyuan

Last year’s festival had 289 features (More than Sundance and SXSW combined!). Of these films, just over ½ (146) were world premieres. Less than 60% of total films at the festival, as well as fewer than 60% of world premieres, have managed to secure US distribution as of this writing. It’s important to note that the films at the fest came from 72 different countries and certain locales (USA, Israel) fared much better than others (All of Africa). Given that this is a major international festival, several films were able to secure international territories even if US distribution proved elusive.

Part of what makes the festival so large is the presence of studio films that take up a lot of the press, along with several North American Premieres from Cannes (36), Venice (16), and Locarno (9). Combined these films make up over 20% of the festival. 41 films or a little over 14% from the 2012 festival grossed over $1,000,000 theatrically in the States. While the number of films in total is quite impressive, the percentage puts it right in line with last year’s Sundance crop.  Of these films, ½ a dozen were studio releases and really don’t belong in the total. Another ½ dozen premiered at Cannes, Berlin, or Sundance.

The world premieres fared slightly better with 16% surpassing the same benchmark.  But if the studio films were removed from the equation, they drop to 13%, and of those, slightly more than half came to the fest with distribution attached.

So, why all the boring and headache inducing number? I think that with its start of the Oscar campaign season and studio gems, the festival often gets a distorted reputation. While it’s a great place to be if you’re a star driven vehicle, the reality is that there is an entire Sundance film festival worth of films that have yet to get distribution in the States!

The festival has a much larger international presence and many of these films have since been released in upwards of two dozen countries, even with the largest film market never coming into play. While the vast majority of these films are foreign and many are from countries that don’t have sizable diaspora populations in the States, several English language films still are struggling to find a way to release. “Detroit Unleaded” is the perfect example. It’s one of the few American films to be left behind, even though it won an award at the festival. Of course with over 4,000 submissions, the odds are still stacked against you getting into the people’s festival.

I want to talk about the two real problems of TIFF.  One is easily fixable and the other is not.

First, nobody at TIFF is thinking outside the box when it comes to distribution. Almost all of the films were traditional acquisitions (“Much Ado About Nothing”) or self-funded DIY vanity projects (Snoop Dogg’s “Reincarnated”). Percentage wise, more films from Tribeca and SXSW will see the light of the day because they had a plan B or C. They were open to DIY or non-theatrical distribution. For everyone who is going to TIFF, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t wait for that giant offer to come, because unless your film stars Ryan Gosling or has been deemed Oscar bait, the major payoff isn’t going to happen. Similarly, the festival is in September and there are no major US festivals till January. So you should already have your US premiere strategy thought out to help compensate for the months and months where you will not be able to generate press.

The other problem is simply the gluttony of films competing for attention. TIFF is simply not going to show fewer films. I wish they would consider it, so that movies playing can get more attention, or just cut all but one or two studio films from their roster. Since the gluttony of choices gives them major revenue and prestige, that is unlikely to happen. If you’re going to TIFF, this means you MUST have a stellar publicist and be ready to talk to anybody and everybody that you can. Promote the hell out of your film. Without fail, almost all the American non-star driven indies that go are too slow to set up their social media operation. Toronto is only a small body of water away from the States and I encourage you to let the world know early and often about your film.

I personally LOVE TIFF. Last year I saw so many incredible films there, and I’m not just talking about Oscar darling “Argo”.  There were so many mind-blowingly wonderful films I stumbled upon, some of which have distribution and one film that hasn’t even screened in the States yet.

I look forward to discovering more of the hidden gems this year at the festival and am happy to meet with any filmmakers to discuss how to connect their wondrous visions with audiences around the world.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 will look at how specific films performed

September 3rd, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals, International Sales

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We all struggle with this, filmmakers, distributors alike.  I remember giving a presentation to distributors about digital distribution and theatrical came up. I talked about the weirdness of showing a film 5 or 6 times a day to an almost always-empty house save a couple showings. This makes no sense for most films.   When I released Baise Moi in 2000, we broke the boxoffice records at the time, and the “raincoat crowd” did show up at the oddest morning hours, but that is the exception, not the rule.  Not every film has an 8-minute rape scene that just must be seen by post-punk-feminists and pornography-lovers alike. It’s an odd set-up for smaller films and it’s not the only means to the end we are looking for.

Recently, The Film Collaborative released Eyes Wide Open in NYC, LA, Palm Beach and Palm Springs. We have a little over $10,000 (all in it will be about $12,000 tops).  We have made our money back and the great reviews and extra marketing / visibility will drive ancillary sales but we also did not invest or risk too much as you can see. That is a great formula (one that small, disciplined and seasoned distributors such as First Run Features, Strand, Zeitgeist, employ) but it is not viable for all films. First of all we have an “A” list festival film (Cannes & TIFF & LAFF) and second it caters to two or three niches (gay and Jewish/Israeli) though one can argue that the niches also slightly cancel each other out to some extent, the film did well so obviously the campaign worked.

But there are many films for which that strategy would not work. Either theaters could not be booked, or reviews would not always be great, and / or the film would simply not galvanize a theatrical audience. Plus, once you start adding up 4-Wall fees, the bottom line leans more likely to be shades of red. The Quad Cinema sent an E-blast promoting its 4-Wall program. It was a good sales pitch and I am not going into it all here, but the take home is that you’re more likely to get a broader theatrical, and/or a distribution deal, and/or picked up by Netflix and other digital platforms if you open theatrically in New York.  I would argue that is true to some extent but also VERY MUCH dependent on the FILM itself and there should still be a cost-analysis and overall strategy consideration before one pays the Quad for their services and hopes for the best.  Here is a link to the info and we are happy to email the blast to any who request it www.quadcinema4wall.com . It should also be noted that generally speaking, The New York Times does not consider your film among “All the News That is Fit to Print” unless it’s opening wider than just New York.

So how to decide?  Companies such as Oscilloscope are all about theatrical, but they pick their films carefully and my guess is Adam Yauch can afford to lose money too if it comes to that. Home Video companies such as New Video, and Phase4 are doing some theatrical, but on an as-needed basis and yes, to service the ancillary rights, but that’s a very experienced analysis on their part.  When we posted on Twitter about the Cable Operators warning they will start requiring a ten (10) city theatrical, all at once, believe me, if everyone blindly follows suit, the bar will get raised even higher right until we all go broke. The point is to mitigate the glut and distinguish films in the marketplace not get us all to be lemmings and empty our bank accounts.  There is math to be done and I know it’s hard without all the back-end numbers at your disposal, but they are coming. We will publish case studies of all our films and we encourage you to get down to the detailed back-end numbers analysis before spending more on the front end and often gratuitously.

We have experienced and heard about the impact a filmmaker can have in his or her city when working the film and then really impacting the gross and that is inspiring, but usually not long-lasting because it takes a lot to get people to pay to see your film in a theater when there are so many other films and so many more marketing dollars behind them.  And what’s in it for you? The only reviews that matter are the big ones and we all know what they are… and remember what we said above about The New York Times.

The general perception of indie film releases is interesting. Most don’t take into account the money that is spent to get the “gross”.  More of the time the distributor (or whomever booked the film) gets less than half of the box office revenues. Sometimes as little as 25% – 30% though of course sometimes more.  And there are the expenses.  The Kids Are Alright may not even be in the black right now, but you’d never know that reading certain coverage. I love Exit Through A Gift Shop and actually flagged that release as a stellar release and then I learned that the marketing spend was actually a lot more than I realized such that the spend may be up to a million dollars. I don’t actually know, and not sure anyone will tell me. I do know that the bottom line for many of The Weinstein releases was reported to be in the red because of spending. If you have a film that can sell a lot of units and especially in an evergreen manner, and if you can trigger a great TV sale and if you have foreign sales legs, then there’s a real upside. If you don’t, then be clear what you’re goals are. Sometimes it’s just a career move and that makes sense. Canadian filmmakers need a theatrical release to get their next projects funded (say that like this: ‘pro-jects’). Sometimes people just want the awards qualification and that’s another ballgame.

We have written some of our TFC Distribution Tid Bits about Hybrid Theatrical and Marketing options, but here is a bit more on the topic:

If creating buzz is what you want, you don’t need a traditional theatrical and you definitely don’t need to overpay for the privilege.

Some OPTIONS – try HYBRID THEATRICAL – do FILM FESTIVAL, CREATE EVENTS, HOLD  A SCREENING WITH ORGANIZATIONS, show in MUSEUMS (in some cases), other ALTERNATIVE VENUES depending on the film, and also there are all sorts of ways to book a few days here and a few days there at theaters (we cover that below).   Theaters are and will continue to do this more and more. AMCi announced their intentions and they are still in the marinating phase, but we know you’ll all be ready when they are.

We’re interested in these companies and services:

  1. Cinedigm:  They have a program in the works that is meant to be similar to ScreenVision and Fathom (which is no longer handling indie films generally speaking, as far as we know) but aimed at independent cinema, and working with all the big theatre chains (Regal, AMC, Cinemark).  I asked them to write a few words for me about themselves and their plans: Cinedigm Entertainment, a theatrical distributor, has built several “channels” of content for movie theatres.  This is niche content that plays at what is traditionally slower times for the theatres.  Examples are; Kidtoons a monthly matinee program; Live 3D sports, like the World Cup and NCAA Final Four basketball; and 3D and 2D concert films with artists from Dave Mathews to Beyonce.  For each “channel,” the most appropriate theatres are chosen and theatres sign on to play the content as a series, thereby creating the expectation in the marketplace for the next installment.  In the company’s newest “channel,” it looks to apply the concept to indie-films which will provide filmmakers with the theatrical element for distribution.
  2. Emerging Pictures:  Owned by Ira Deutchman (now also a Film Prof. at Columbia University). I spoke with Joshua Green, whom I have known for a while and booked with, though no real revenues were made in the past, their latest network of theatres sounds potent.  They connect up to 75 theatres and they do very well with Opera, Ballet and Shakespeare, but also indie films.  They work with all the usual indie film distributors either taking on 2nd run of films in major markets or handing the first run in secondary markets.  On screen now for example is Mother & Child, My Name is Love, and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.  30% of the Gross is paid to the distributor or filmmaker.  They charge usually a 1-time encoding fee to get the files needed for the theatres. The fee is $1,000. If that’s an issue that can sometimes in advance to make sure the bookings will happen to make the fee worthwhile.  They create a Hi Rez file 720p VC1 file which is a professional HD version of MS Windows. They work with the Laemmle theatres in LA and Sympany Space in NY and lots of others across the country. What does well on the Art House circuit will do well with them I was told. Makes sense.
  3. Variance Films: Dylan Marchetti (former exec at Imaginasian and Think Film) is a firm believer in Theatrical and it’s his business.  He may promote its necessities a bit more than I will and its not his money to spend and he was honest about the range of success (meaning not all films work theatrically and sometimes money is lost, and we know of at least one example, but it happens).  We spoke for the first time and I was comforted by his grassroots approach (they do that work themselves) and his commitment to alternative low cost venues: event screenings, niche-specific / lifestyle specific venues, as well as traditional theatres (all the usual chains and small theatres etc).  He noted that generally speaking, they do not charge more than $50,000 and that they get paid via back-end fees only. He said a release in NY and LA for $20,000 can be done. Variance is not a believer in print advertising; they have to believe in the film to take it on; and Dylan said that there is no correlation between P&A spending and a film’s success. Amen. They don’t do PR but rather refer out to outside agencies, as does The Film Collaborative. NB: Dylan Marchetti of Variance makes a correction to this. “Fees vary wildly depending on the film and release”. So sometimes they can do backend tied fees only, but not always.

The Film Collaborative is theatrically releasing UNDERTOW (which won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance). Stay tuned.

July 28th, 2010

Posted In: Film Festivals, Marketing, Theatrical, Uncategorized

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